FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — One of the most iconic sounds of the Vietnam War filled the skies above much of the training areas and ranges of Fort Leonard Wood last week as two Air Force UH-1N “Huey” helicopters were here conducting a training mission at Cannon Range — the 4,800-acre aerial gunnery and bombing range that makes up much of the southwest portion of the post.
The Hueys, as they’re commonly called, and their crew are assigned to the 37th Helicopter Squadron at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, where they are tasked with providing security and transportation at America’s expansive nuclear missile ranges.
According to Air Force Maj. Drew Hundley, the mission commander for the visit, the week provided an opportunity to meet training currency requirements for aerial gunnery and close air support.
“We try to find ranges that are willing to host and support those efforts,” he said. “We can practice aerial gunnery concepts at F.E. Warren without any weapons on board — it’s just basically flying weapons patterns — however, for our gunners in the back to actually be able to shoot, we have to be on a range.”
Hundley said the visit also provided an opportunity to integrate with the Air Force A-10 aircraft that routinely fly here to train from Whiteman Air Force Base, about 130 miles northwest of Fort Leonard Wood, near Knob Noster, Missouri. In actual scenarios, the two types of aircraft can work together to identify and engage adversaries more effectively.
“If there is a bad guy on the ground, for instance, (the A-10 pilots) could see that from their level, create a plan in their aircraft for how we would engage that target, and then pass that to us,” Hundley said. “Then, we would actually go in and process that target.”
Starting with Vietnam, the Huey has a long history of military service, said Dave Breckenridge, one of the civilians charged with maintaining the helicopters — the two here were each first fielded in 1969.
Breckenridge, who spent 22 years in the Air Force, said he has been working on Hueys since the early 1980s, and actually helped move these specific models when their current mission took them from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to F.E. Warren.
“Some, I remember back that far, but not a lot of them,” he said. “They’ve gone through several of them — some have gone to the boneyard — but for the mission they have, nuclear security, I think it’s a good helicopter to do it.”
It was the first visit to Fort Leonard Wood for the 30 or so aircrew and aircraft and weapons maintainers from Wyoming, and Hundley thanked the team here and at Whiteman.
“Everybody we’ve worked with here has been outstanding hosts,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.”